August, 2006

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Article Index

Standard Work
Article by: Manufacturers Alliance
Most often, literature about lean illustrates standard work as a foundation of a house or a pyramid or as a tool or element of lean.
Book Review
Article by: John Hehre
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean.
Compliance News and Notes
Article by: Vija Kelly
OEMs Beginning to Require Avian Flu Pandemic Response Plans
Legal Corner
Article by: Gregory Peters
US Supreme Court Establishes Standard Against Retaliation in Workplace
Minnesota Economic Condition
Article by: Manufacturers Alliance
For the month of August 2006, reported September 1.
Standard Work
Most often, literature about lean illustrates standard work as a foundation of a house or a pyramid or as a tool or element of lean.

Quite possibly, standard work is the most crucial step in the early stages of a lean journey. Unfortunately, many American organizations that are pursuing lean undervalue its role and underestimate the time and effort it requires for lean to work for them. Typically, these organizations dig into their lean toolbox and pull out a number of neat things to play with such as 5S, 1-piece flow, andons, standard work, and kaizen then randomly go to work. The most favorite tool is probably kaizen, as it has the ability to immediately show bottom-line results.

Over time, use of these tools may help an organization progress. However, better long-term velocity can be achieved by establishing a solid foundation for leveraging change. The drawback is that it takes time to sustain a culture. It might even mean you must let go of the other tools for a while.

Standard work is primarily intended to minimize process variation. The variation control starts with basic control of process steps. The second control factor is in the techniques within those steps.

Minimized variation allows for a solid reference point to make improvement. There are several levels of process variation one could cite, starting from absolute chaos to total control. Chaotic organizations make for tough improvement. In advanced lean organizations with total control, the people make continuous change on their own. To do so, they must have a shared reference point to start from.

This sounds straightforward. Why doesn't it work? The failure is likely to be in one of the three important ingredients:

  • Visual Commonality

  • Simple versus Detail

  • Audit

Visual Commonality
Visual commonality involves the stop sign analogy. There is a reason why stop signs are not only the same color and shape, but also the same height, size, and location from the road. If standard work is truly important to process control, present it that way. This means you must have a standard presentation method and location in the work area.

Simple versus Detail
Standard work can be split into steps and technique. The steps of a process are often overlooked. Most systems are built from detailed work instructions, showing technique within a series of steps. This may sound the same, but it is not.

In lean, standard work is a tool for the operator as much as it is for the leader. Isolating the steps of the operation allows both to focus on the high level core of the process (the skeleton). As noted below, this is typically on a standardized work document posted within a few feet of the work station for the operator and leader to see. The details reside in various documents like work instructions and control plans (the meat). In lean environments, this information is typically used in the training of the process. Another version of standard work is all the visual queues around the work area, like taped kanban squares, etc. Despite all that is stated here, some organizations may need a heavier focus on the techniques in conjunction with the steps.

Standard work is both for the operator as well as the leader. In most lean organizations, you will have a group of operators, led by a team leader, led by a supervisor. Each leader has the standard work of monitoring standard work. The most important audit is that of the team leader and the use of standard work. There are a variety of successful methods to audit the process. It is most important to make sure the audit process shows both the leader and user why the standard work step is important, that it is structured (a routine), and that it has accountability tied from the operator through the area manager.

To summarize, standard work is the basis for improvement. A solid culture of standard work enables continuous improvement, also known as autonomous change. There are three key ingredients to make it successful. It is not only a foundation block for lean, but also one of your first steps in the lean journey. Don't expect to do it overnight or in conjunction with other steps or extensive lean tool usage. Depending on your organization, it might be a stopping point for a while.

Learn what Standard Work is and gain ideas on how to implement it where you work. Join your peers at the new Standard Work workshop on October 25. To learn more about it click Here
The mission of the Manufacturers Alliance is to provide peer-to-peer training, education, and resources which inspire manufacturing companies to continuously grow, improve, and stay competitive.

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Book Review
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean.
Flinchbaugh, Jamie, and Carlino, Andy.
Dearborn, MI: Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 2006.

Books with cute titles frequently fall short of expectations. Generally, if authors need gimmickry to sell their books, they should reconsider the content. Nonetheless, The Hitchhiker's Guide has an interesting premise, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers usually does well by its books. The title relates to the authors' experiences while traveling through a wide variety of lean implementations.

The premise of the book is that a solid understanding of the fundamentals of lean is essential, even before you use the myriad of tools that characterize most lean implementations. Complete understanding is of course impossible. Even Toyota, after all these years, is still learning, but some level of mastery is necessary, at least among the leaders and folks affected by the expected changes.

The first five chapters present the fundamental underpinnings of successful lean implementations. These include a discussion of basic principles, leadership versus management, and common pitfalls; a description of the transformation road map; and finally, an introduction of an "operating system," and why it is important.

The next chapters describe some nonmanufacturing areas where lean can be as effective as it is in manufacturing: accounting, materials management, service, and a personal, individual approach. Concluding the book are five interviews with leaders of companies with successful lean cultures and practices.

The most interesting thing about the book is the absence of both the usual history lesson (how many more times must we read about Toyota?) and the laundry list of lean tools.

The Hitchhiker's Guide succeeds in several ways. The authors make the case well for developing an understanding of lean early on in the process and then deepening that understanding continuously. Also, they elaborate on different ways to think about the philosophy behind lean. If you are looking for a book on lean tools, this isn't it. However, if you want to foster a deeper understanding of lean, this book is worth reading.
John Hehre is a senior operations executive and provides interim management and project based consulting to mid-sized private companies in need of transformative change. He can be reached at

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Compliance News and Notes
OEMs Beginning to Require Avian Flu Pandemic Response Plans
We have begun to receive inquiries about preparing Avian flu plans because the customers of our customers are expressing concern, even though no signs of a pandemic of bird flu are currently evident. Original Equipment Manufacturers (the bigger corporations) are obviously worried about the continuity of their supply chain. Following are the recommendations of a major corporation requiring such plans.

Preparedness and Communication
We recommend that facilities provide communication and training to employees regarding hygiene practices to prevent the spread of infection.

Surveillance and Detection
We recommend that you establish a regular bird-flu monitoring protocol. The protocol would be managed and implemented by a coordinator. The coordinator would have primary responsibility for monitoring the status of avian flu in the city or region where the plant is located. The coordinator should also be able to answer questions about prevention and mitigation activities.

We recommend that you establish a response and containment plan. It should at least address the following:

  • Triggers for implementing travel and visitor restrictions

  • Cleaning and disinfecting protocols in affected areas

  • Criteria for taking mandatory sick leave and for quarantine, as appropriate

  • Alternate workforce or manufacturing contingency plans

  • Work-from-home plans and triggers for anyone not infected

During an outbreak, it will be critical that persons with the disease be kept separate from those who do not have the disease.
<img src=""align="left">Hazard Management is a consulting and training firm specializing in occupational safety and hazardous waste management. Call Vija Kelly at 651-697-0422 for more information.

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Legal Corner
US Supreme Court Establishes Standard Against Retaliation in Workplace
It is not new advice to tell employers to work closely with supervisors and managers to prevent retaliation when an employee has: filed an internal discrimination complaint, filed a complaint with the EEOC, or supported or participated in an investigation into a complaint. However, in a recent unanimous decision in Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, the US Supreme Court adopted a new "reasonable worker" standard for proving unlawful retaliation. The outcome is expected to increase Title VII retaliation claims, even when their underlying discrimination claims are meritless.

Previously, the 8th Circuit (which encompasses Minnesota) applied an "ultimate employment decision" standard that limited actionable retaliatory conduct to employer acts such as hiring, granting leave, discharging, promoting and compensating that result in economic loss to the employee. The Supreme Court rejected the "ultimate employment" standard as being too limited and held that, to prevail in a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that a "reasonable employee would have found the challenged action materially adverse" such that "it well might have 'dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.' "

The First Example of What Not to Do Under the New Standard: The Burlington Northern Case

In June, 1997, Burlington hired Sheila White as a track laborer. Her duties included removing and replacing track components, transporting track material, cutting brush, and clearing litter and cargo spillage. Soon after White joined the crew, the forklift operator assumed other duties. Since White had prior forklift experience, she assumed this function. Although she continued to perform some of the other track laborer tasks, operating the forklift was her "primary responsibility."

In September, 1997, White complained to Burlington officials that her immediate supervisor had made "inappropriate remarks" in front of her co-workers and repeatedly told White that women should not be working in the department. While the supervisor was disciplined, White was reassigned only standard track laborer tasks, reflecting complaints by co-workers that, in fairness, a "more senior man" should have the "less arduous and cleaner job" of forklift operator. White then filed an EEOC charge claiming that the reassignment of her duties was unlawful retaliation. She filed another charge with the EEOC in December, 1997, claiming that ongoing monitoring of her activities constituted retaliation. While the EEOC claims were pending, White was suspended without pay based on her supervisor's report that she was insubordinate during a disagreement on the job. She was reinstated with back pay 37 days later after the internal grievance procedure led Burlington to conclude that White had not been insubordinate. White then filed her third EEOC retaliation charge based on the suspension.

After exhausting her administrative remedies, White filed a Title VII action claiming that Burlington unlawfully retaliated against her by (1) changing her job responsibilities and (2) suspending her for 37 days without pay (even though she was eventually
compensated for those 37 days). A jury found for White, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the result. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

The Supreme Court upheld the prior decisions, but set forth a new standard for proving retaliation claims. In particular, the Court held that "a plaintiff must show that a reasonable employee would have found the challenged action materially adverse, which in this context means it well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."

In setting such a "reasonable employee" standard, the Court has attempted to separate significant from trivial harms, such as petty slights, minor annoyances, and lack of good manners. In the Burlington case, the Court noted that almost all jobs have responsibilities and duties that are less desirable than others, and that a good way to discourage a discrimination charge would be to alter the employee's job to spend more time performing the more arduous duties of the position. The Court noted that suspending White without pay for 37 days during the holiday season, even though back pay was eventually reinstated, was a "serious hardship."

Other examples of actions that may be considered retaliatory include

  • a schedule change to a young mother with school age children; or

  • excluding an employee from a weekly training lunch.

This new "reasonable person" retaliation standard has several practical implications for employers:

  • It is likely that more retaliation claims will be filed.

  • Employers must train supervisors and managers to avoid actions that could be construed as retaliation even when the EEOC claim or internal grievance seems to be unjustified.

  • Employers should be able to clearly articulate their legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for taking actions and be able to prove those reasons.
Gregory L. Peters, is an attorney with Seaton, Peters & Revnew, P.A. whose practice is limited to representing employers in labor and employment matters. Mr. Peters has worked with companies in all areas of employment counseling, employment litigation, labor arbitration, union organizing and labor negotiations. Mr. Peters can be reached at (952) 921-4607.

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Minnesota Economic Condition
For the month of August 2006, reported September 1.
For a third straight month, Minnesota's Business Conditions Index declined to 56.5 compared to July's 60.3 and June's 69.4.

Components of the overall index for August were new orders at 58.1, production at 57.3, delivery lead time at 52.3, inventories at 64.0 and employment at 52.3.
The mission of the Manufacturers Alliance is to provide peer-to-peer training, education, and resources which inspire manufacturing companies to continuously grow, improve, and stay competitive.

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